Where Was Goodbye?

Where Was Goodbye?
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Release Date
April 30, 2024
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A teen girl searches for closure after her brother dies by suicide in this breathtaking novel from the author of Learning to Breathe and Facing the Sun.

Karmen is about to start her last year of high school, but it’s only been six weeks since her brother, Julian, died by suicide. How is she supposed to focus on school when huge questions loom: Why is Julian gone? How could she have missed seeing his pain? Could she have helped him?

When a blowup at school gets Karmen sent home for a few weeks, life gets more complicated: things between her parents are tenser than ever, her best friend’s acting like a stranger, and her search to understand why Julian died keeps coming up empty.

New friend Pru both baffles and comforts Karmen, and there might finally be something happening with her crush, Isaiah, but does she have time for either, or are they just more distractions? Will she ever understand Julian’s struggle and tragedy? If not, can she love—and live—again?

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One look at a family surviving a suicide
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Karmen's family is reeling in the wake of the death by suicide of her older brother, Julian six weeks ago. Julian was living at home, and enrolled in the local college in Nassau, The Bahamas, that their father is also attending. Her father is coping by working extra hard and being away from home, but her mother, who is a therapist, is rarely getting out of bed and isn't consulting with any of her patience. Karmen has to start her senior year of high school, and can't make sense of what has happened. Going back the first day, she is glad to see her friend Layla, but has a panic attack. It doesn't help that a teacher announces to her whole class what has happened, and calls on them to support her. The students seem to do just the opposite, asking intrusive questions, and in one instance, wanting her to be interviewed for a local news show. News crews still hang out by the school, further intruding into her grief. Karmen does see Dr. Rhonda to process her grief, but is not helped by the fact that Julian's room is kept as a shrine and his shoes are still left on the shoe rack in the hallway. Karmen becomes obsessed with finding out why her brother did what he did, and starts to interview people at the college, as well as people with whom he skateboarded. It's interesting that the police blamed his death on his involvement with the "counter culture" of skateboarding, but realistic that they don't really investigate much. At the college, the professors tell her that they can't divulge personal information, although she knows that her brother was on academic probation. The students are warned against talking to her. As her obsession deepens, Karmen starts wearing Julian's clothing, skateboarding, and twice in one day takes off and doesn't let her worried parents know where she will be. The only steadying influence in her life is Layla's brother, Isaiah, who helps here investigate but also watches out for her and tries to get her to go back to being involved in her previous activities, like attending the church youth group. When Karmen discovers that her mother had been keeping notes on Julian's mental state for five years, she starts to realize that there were a lot of clues to Julian's mental state that she missed. How will she find a way to go on without her beloved brother, or without the answers she so desperately craves?

Good Points
Karmen's need for answers is understandable, and she is haunted by the phrase she hears after an unpleasant incident "At least no one died." Her family's reactions read like a textbook description of the various ways to cope with this kind of loss. The father throws himself into work, the mother descends into an immovable depression herself, and Karmen exhibits alarming behaviors that endanger herself as she acts out in reaction. It was good to see that Karmen had a therapist and is encouraged to attend a group; it would have been interesting to see if the parents did as well.

Karme does find some answers, at least to how she will go on, but I liked the fact that there is never anything really concrete. The family does seem to make its way forward, eventually taking the shoes off the rack and being okay with them not being there.

Perhaps things are different in The Bahamas, but in the US it would have seemed unusual for such attention to be paid to Karmen in school. Even with the increased attention on suicide prevention (with organizations like The Hope Squad), students who suffer this kind of loss are usually largely ignored by school staff, and fellow classmates would think it rude to ask anything more than "Are you doing okay today"?

There are no shortages of Young Adult Books about suicide, and readers can find many popular titles including Green's 2005 Looking for Alaska, Vizzini's 2006 It's Kind of a Funny Story, Asher's 2007 Thirteen Reasons Why, Niven's 2015 All the Bright Places, Belanger's 2018 The History of Jane Doe, and Lawson's 2020 The Lucky Ones. Where Was Goodbye? stands out because of the Bahamian setting, and offers a different cultural perspective on this kind of devastating loss.
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